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Nowhere To Go

Nowhere To Go

By Ben Nicholson • January 15th, 2013
Static Mass Rating: 4/5
MGM / Ealing Studios

Original release: December 2nd, 1958
Running time: 89 minutes

Director: Seth Holt
Writers: Seth Holt, Kenneth Tynan, Donald MacKenzie (novel)

Cast: George Nader, Bessie Love, Bernard Lee, Maggie Smith

Nowhere To Go

There are two studios that are intrinsically linked with British cinema more than any others. One is Hammer Films; purveyor of classic, and often period, horror films replete with buxom wenches, Kensington gore and Christopher Lee. The other is Ealing. When I think of Ealing Studios, my immediate thought is comedy. From the late 1940’s until the late 1950’s the studio produced a wealth of hilarious celluloid in films like Whisky Galore (1949), Kind Hearts And Coronets (1949), The Man In The White Suit (1951) and The Ladykillers (1955).

Although many of their most famous pictures would fall into the Ealing Comedy category, the studio also produced dramas, especially when in partnership with MGM for their final few years. Many of the funnier examples of their work had dramatic undertones with films like The Ladykillers combining farce with decidedly murderous material. This however is a film from the studios stable that tackles a particular genre which I didn’t expect to see; Film Noir in Nowhere To Go.

A genre that has roots in German Expressionism, Film Noir really came into its own in the post-war United States using the hard boiled detectives found on the pages of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett as inspiration. That’s not to say, however, that European cinema didn’t produce its fair share of exceptional entries into the canon including the very best – in my humble opinion; The Third Man (1949). There are further major examples from the UK in the form of Powell and Pressburger’s The Small Back Room (1949), John Boulting’s Brighton Rock (1947), Jules Dassin’s Night And The City (1950), and more. Still, I couldn’t quite get my head around the idea of Ealing portraying such a darkly negative world view as the genre requires. I needn’t have worried.

Nowhere To Go

The opening is typically Noirish. Monochrome photography gives us a tense, dialogue-free, prison break that sees an unidentified man scale the prison wall and deposit something through a window. Seconds later there’s an explosion, and a prisoner escapes. He winds up in a flat which a friend had sorted out for him and, at this point, I wouldn’t have been surprised if this were a US noir. Then, our protagonist slides into a bath and a trademark voice-over begins in a North American lilt. As the tale of his crime is relayed to us we hear of how he begins the long con on an older woman at an ice hockey game. We’re soon into more familiar and British territory as it’s revealed that Paul Gregory (George Nader) and Harriet P. Jefferson (Bessie Love) are both visitors to this sceptered isle.

As the plot unfurls before us, we see two stories intercut: that of Paul’s deception and betrayal of Harriet, and the events after his prison break. What’s striking about the events – those in the chronologically latter portion of the film – is that they’re so unrelentingly bleak. The title of the film isn’t messing around in this instance, there’s quite literally nowhere for our fugitive to go. He attempts to hole up in plenty of places, and looks for aid from various – often equally nefarious – sources but comes up empty.

During his initial sojourn in the small flat secured for him by an accomplice, Sloan (Bernard Lee), he meets a young woman who’s been jilted by her fiancé. Her beau is the owner of the flat Paul is using and although she doesn’t stick around for long, Bridget (Maggie Smith) ends up being the one person willing to help. After being Nowhere To Gocruelly double-crossed by Sloan, Paul ties his betrayer – and his wife – up. Regrettably, Sloan dies of suffocation after Paul’s fled and so the fugitive becomes considerably hotter property.

Nader gives a fine performance as the classic man on the run, hardly sleeping and forever just craving a place to be free of the chase. Of course, that peace never comes, even when the wealthy Bridget agrees to take him away to a secluded family home in Wales. He doesn’t deserve to be free, of course, and the film never attempts to make him out as a loveable rogue. This is no Daniel Ocean, or indeed more pertinently, Harry Lime. He’s a largely taciturn man who deserves little mercy and gets just that.

Through flashbacks we come to see the depth of his fraud of the ill-fated Harriet. A widow with a valuable coin collection burning a hole in her handbag, Gregory and Sloan play her for a fool and make off with their ill-gotten gains. Crime doesn’t pay, though, and that’s the most definite message to take from Seth Holt’s noir. When it gets bad enough, even the worst criminals won’t help and regardless of whether a beautiful young woman takes pity, Paul Gregory is fated to die alone. And there I was thinking I couldn’t imagine Ealing going dark enough.

Nowhere To Go

Ben Nicholson

Ben Nicholson

Ben has had a keen love of moving images since his childhood but after leaving school he fell truly in love with films. His passion manifests itself in his consumption of movies (watching films from all around the globe and from any period of the medium’s history with equal gusto), the enjoyment he derives from reading, talking and writing about cinema and being behind the camera himself having completed his first co-directed short film in mid-2011.

His favourite films include things as diverse as The Third Man, In The Mood For Love, Badlands, 3 Iron, Casablanca, Ran and Grizzly Man to name but a few.

Ben has his own film site, ACHILLES AND THE TORTOISE, and you can follow him on Twitter @BRNicholson.

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